Ardmore - First Christian Settlement in Ireland
|Photo by Martha McCartney - Grave Marker, Ardmore Cemetery|
The photograph above placed first in popular vote in the Ireland Photos by You! contest. 59 photographs were entered and over 300 people voted by LIKING their favorite photos on Thin Places Mystical Tour of Ireland Facebook page.
This winning photograph depicts a grave marker in the Ardmore Church Cemetery in County Waterford. It was taken by Martha McCartney. I asked Martha to share some personal thoughts about the photograph and what her experience was when she took it.
Going to Ireland had been a dream of my father’s that was not realized. Our family has roots deep in Celtic history and my ancestors traveled from Scotland to Ireland before making the trek across the Atlantic in time for the Revolutionary War.
When I explained to my father that I wanted to make the trip and especially wanted to search for grave sites, he was excited but had only one request, this was for a “wee drop of the Irish Whiskey “ which was provided to him upon my return to the West Virginia hills that he called home.Martha lives in the Pacific Northwest and is a photographer, poet and artist. You can view more of her work at Lillie Savage.
The first place that I searched for ancestral graves was the cemetery at Ardmore. Perched high on a hill overlooking a sweeping view of the Atlantic, it is instilled with a sense of maritime tragedy being filled with the graves of sea captains and mourning widows. This site seeped into my heart and although I visited many other spots in Ireland where I felt a connection, none were as intensely peaceful and calming as Ardmore.
To be able to look from grave to the sea is remarkable, the round tower standing guard over the ancient temple ruins and the amazing statuary seem to make the senses more intact, the colors and scents more vivid, the boundary between antiquity and present seem to melt away making it a truly thin place and the feeling of spirituality is palpable.
A little more about Ardmore ....
Ardmore is believed to be the first Christian settlement in Ireland, founded by St. Declan - a Welshman who emigrated from Wales to this spot in County Waterford sometime between 350 AD and 420 AD. This means Declan's settlement would have predated St. Patrick's return to Ireland as a Priest and Bishop.
Ardmore has four unique thin places wrapped into one beautiful setting on the Atlantic Ocean.
The BEACH The beach or strand is stunning and one of the finest beaches in all of Ireland. On the shoreline is St. Declan's rock (seen in slideshow below) which is believed to have carried his vestments and bell across the ocean. Many believe this boulder still carries healing powers. It has sat in the same spot for centuries, according to the locals.
St. Declan's Holy Well - The south road out of Ardmore town ascends up to St. Declan's Holy Well. The remains of a hermitage still stand - Temple Dysert - and within the remains is a holy well where the pilgrim can extract or drink water believed to have healing powers.
The Cliff Walk - As the visitor continues up the hill past the Holy Well, the road opens up into a wide mesa-like space with spectacular views of the sea. The Ardmore Cliff Walk is not to be missed. The sweeping views of the Atlantic, the cliffs, the waterfowl and Ardmore town are breathtaking.
The Monastic Settlement - As the settlement and cemetery come into view, St. Declan's Church with its 9th century carvings and roundtower, overtake the senses. What must it have been like to come upon this spot when the settlement was thriving? Today's parallel experience might be a popular city skyline like San Francisco or New York. The familiar landmarks would remind ship captains that sailed up the Atlantic - "There's Ardmore." It still has that same stunning sense of place that almost cries out from the landscape.
The monastic area has many graves - in fact, almost every square inch of ground space is marked for a person that sleeps below. Some grave markers are elaborate like the one in Martha's photograph above. Many are mere rocks or pieces of slate set as a meager reminder of what the departed's family could afford. But elaborate or meager, the dotted hallowed ground claims its place in the Ardmore memory. .. and gives the visitor a sense of not walking alone.